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Hear Me Out...NBA-Chinese government beef

First, a revision on my NBA predictions, the Cavs will be the worst team in the NBA. I did not realize they were breaking out horrible new unis that look like a callback to the franchise’s worst days. And because of that, they’re a lock to be the league’s worst team.

Now onto the NBA and a geopolitical nightmare.

The NBA-Chinese government beef is absolutely fascinating. A quick recap, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted out a meme in support of the protesters in Hong Kong just before the league’s trip to China in the preseason, and the Chinese government really did not like it. And by they did not like it, I mean they hated it and are absolutely furious with the NBA.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been in DEFCON 1 clean up mode since that Morey tweet. He’s been frantically trying to salvage the league’s relationship with China, a huge cog in the league’s business plans, while still supporting the league’s mandate to allow their people to speak freely.

At first, I was upset how the NBA seemingly bent the knee to China but after watching the story unfold and thinking of my own economic hypocrisies, now I’m just mildly disappointed. Sure, it would have been great if they gave the finger to the Chinese government but there were a lot of players and NBA people in China at the time. Their safety was the bigger concern and a real concern at that, since the Chinese government likes to jail people for what seems like sport.

And I’m not saying that the NBA didn’t push their business interests aside for a greater cause. The Chinese market is important to them and they’re not going to let go so easily. But Silver and crew straddled the line of free speech and doing business in a communist country quite well. The Chinese government demanded that the league fire Morey after his tweet and Silver refused. That just isn’t hyperbole either, not long after Morey’s tweet articles were popping up all over questioning or outright demanding that Morey be let go.

And once it became clear the NBA was not going to budge on firing Morey, those articles just disappeared. Like the NBA or not, but that takes stones. Not many businesses would have stood their ground like that.

I get people wanting to take shots at the NBA because many of the players and coaches take shots at our government and they’ve been crowned, the overly used tag, “social justice warriors”. It’s all fair but to each their own. I don’t take issue with the NBA letting players or coaches speak out against our own government and politicians. Not to be too much of a blowhard, but speaking truth to power without repercussions from the government is why we’re awesome and China sucks, specifically the Chinese government.

There was also worry about protests from the Chinese citizens. But that’s kind of hard to weigh when you look at how heavily the Chinese government censors information/cracks down on any form of anti-government protest. Of all the talking head shows I’ve watched during this situation, only one person, ESPN’s Bomani Jones, pointed this out.

This is the same government that’s scrubbed all references of “South Park” because the show hurt their feelings. They’ve also wiped Winnie-the-Pooh from their internet because there were too many memes comparing President Xi to the cartoon character. So how real is the uproar with the average Chinese people and not one of their state-sanctioned celebrities? Who knows?

One funny element of this story was the crowing from FS1. My goodness were they feeling themselves. They swung haymakers at the NBA and their top competitor ESPN. They were absolutely right, ESPN was slow to the draw on this story and I wouldn’t be surprised if they allowed the Chinese government to censor their content for that whole week.

But FS1 should have calmed down some because had the roles been reversed and FOX was the one with the massive NBA deal, they’d be giving deep bows to the Chinese government as well. They’d have tip-toed around the topic just like ESPN with that money on the line and their colleagues’ safety in possible jeopardy.

All in all, considering how bad this could have gone, there were really no losers in this scenario. Silver stood his ground and still keeps that Chinese money coming into the league, and Morey comes out the absolute best out of all this. He keeps his job while also achieving folk hero status to the people of Hong Kong.

Well, I lied, there is one loser…

LeBron James.

LeBron’s comments and attempted tweets to clarify those comments were a mess. They were so bad that it got people on both sides of the political aisle to unite and go after him.

LeBron’s response was so spectacularly bad it reminded me of that part in “Billy Madison” where the guy told Billy “What you just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul.”

It was like in high school when you thought you had an awesome presentation for history class, even though you didn’t study that much. When you give your spiel and look to your teacher for some kind of affirmation that you killed it but the look on their face is the exact opposite. Then that sinking, panicking feeling hits you and you realize that you have to keep talking and you’ve used up all your good stuff so you have to stall and dig into the recesses of your mind for any information. And while you’re stalling you keep repeating the same word or phrase, each time making it obvious that you were in no way prepared for this. Then eventually, you accept your fate and abruptly end it. That was LeBron during his press conference.

LeBron kept repeating that Morey was misinformed about the Hong Kong situation but offered no context to how Morey was misinformed. It was terrible all around for him. I think what he was trying to get at during that mess was he was upset at Morey for putting the league in such a tough spot. Well, that and Morey cost him money. I’d say it was a 50-50 split of being concerned about everyone in China and salty that he lost out on a seven-figure payday. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin laid out as much in his piece last week about what the behind the scenes looked like for the NBA while they were in China.

But as bad as LeBron was it wasn’t the worst media performance of the week. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg took that distinction. Zuckerberg tried to claim he created Facebook because he wanted a safe space for political discourse? Come on Zuck, we all know why you created Facebook. It was all nerd rage, fueled by little-man syndrome. No matter what you do or say, people don’t like you, just come to terms with that Zuck.

I don’t think we’re done with this NBA-Chinese government story. It still has some run and I’m sure there’s going to be more wrinkles to come. (The 30-for-30 is going to be amazing) And for all the heat the NBA took, one thing that has flown under the radar is that the NBA is pretty important to the Chinese government. The NBA gives them some credibility in the sports world. The NFL, NHL (hehe), MLB and even profession soccer don’t have that strong of a foothold in that country compared to the NBA. And appearance is incredibly important to that government and I don’t think they’d be so quick to toss the NBA out the country. Quietly, the Chinese government restored a working relationship with the league, but stay tuned, this could take another turn at any moment.